A Writer’s Dirty Little Secret

The Devil's Only Friend by Dan Wells
Written by Dan Wells

The dirty little secret is that I don’t write for you. Sorry. I think that most authors are the same, or at least similar: we love it when you read our books, and we certainly hope that you like them, but in the end we’re not really writing them for approval, and we’re not writing them for fame, and we’re certainly not writing them for money. There are easier and far more efficient ways of getting all of those things.

When we write, or at least when I write, I do it because there’s a story inside my brain that I love so much I can’t not tell it. There are characters I want to learn more about; there are situations and problems and thorny, complicated, impossible choices that I want to force an imaginary person to grapple with. I tell stories because I love to tell stories, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading them, but even if I were the last person on the planet I’d still be writing them, using whatever lonely writing device managed to survive the apocalypse. I write for me, is what I’m saying, and that makes me the first and toughest audience I have to deal with.

Which makes it tricky when my editors start asking for more books in a series I consider finished.

The John Cleaver trilogy—or as I’ve had to start calling it, The First John Cleaver Trilogy—came out about six years ago, and people liked it, but I finished it and moved on to other things. I wrote a mind-twisty thriller about schizophrenia, and a post-apocalyptic YA series, and a book about cloning that isn’t out yet, and some tie-in fiction, and some horror shorts, and a thing about a Mormon pioneer superhero, and the point here is that I moved on. When you write what you’re excited about, and you’re an easily excitable person, you end up piling your plate with a little bit of everything from the Genre Buffet. People kept asking about John Cleaver, asking if I ever intended to write more, and my answer was always the same: “I love that character, but I’m done with him. He has completed his arc.”

I’ve lived in Germany, in Stuttgart, for the last two years, and I absolutely loved it, in part because it gave me a chance to talk to new people and see the way they acted and reacted to things—very different reactions, obviously, than Americans would have. This helped me to see my own life in a way I hadn’t before, and that got me thinking—I guess you could say that I looked at myself as a character in a story, in a place and a situation that weren’t originally part of the outline. It changed my story fundamentally though I remained true to who I am.

Those experiences made me think about John Cleaver, and how a wild new shake-up to his life might change certain parts of him while leaving his core identity untouched. I began to wonder about new arcs that his character might take, and about different challenges that he might face, and all of a sudden I had it—an amazing new idea that I couldn’t let go of. I knew I could write a new John Cleaver trilogy, but more importantly, I was excited to write it. I was thrilled. I called my German editor and asked if he might be interested in another John Cleaver series, and his response was to email me the cover he’d already mocked up for it, with a title and everything. It seemed safe to say that I wasn’t the only one excited by the idea, so I contacted my agent and my American editor and we got the ball rolling, and now it’s finally here: The Second John Cleaver Trilogy. I think of it as The Last John Cleaver Trilogy, but I guess the one thing I’ve learned is to never say never, right?

So what, you might be asking, is the new book about? I don’t want to spoil anything, but here’s a quick teaser: in the first trilogy John was alone, fighting creatures he called demons in his own home town. The new trilogy starts one year later with John on an FBI kill team, which might sound like a good step up, but come on: if there’s one thing John hates more than monsters, it’s authority figures telling him what to do. The teenage sociopath does not play nicely with others, and the monsters they’re hunting do not take kindly to being hunted….

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